By the time
Kendrick debuted in the majors, on April 26, 2006, Woods was stricken by lung
cancer, the result of a lifetime of smoking. She watched that first game at
home, telling everyone who called, "That's my boy on TV playing
baseball!" and afterward he sent her the game jersey. Later that year she
died. "When people are hard on me now, when things aren't where they need
to be, I can just remember her and where I came from," says Kendrick.
"She's the reason I'm in baseball and the reason I'm so successful. She
taught me you have to work hard in life and be respectful."
That attitude is
evident in his approach to the game today. Though reserved and polite, more
likely to work a crossword than joke around in the clubhouse, Kendrick is
fanatical about practice. A minor league teammate says he never heard Kendrick
have a conversation not about baseball, and Scioscia says Kendrick
"practices as hard as any player we've had." As for Kendrick's hitting,
Matthews says, "You watch his BP, and he takes it with a purpose."
That is evident on
a recent spring morning at the Angels' facility in Tempe, Ariz. At 5'10",
Kendrick's strike zone is small and he rarely reaches outside of it. He begins
by cracking line drives to right field, then to center, then a few to left. Out
of 21 swings, he hit 16 liners, and on most he is squared up. Not once does he
swing for the fences, nor does he send any balls near them. "Every time he
hits a home run, it looks like an accident," says Willits, who played
alongside Kendrick at three of his four stops in the Angels' minor league
system. "When he does, he's trying to stay on a ball and hit it the other
way, or smoke a line drive and he backspins it good and it carries out of the
doesn't need to provide power in a solid Angels' lineup—he hit only five homers
in 338 at bats last year—or in spacious Angel Stadium, which caters more to
doubles hitters, he is expected to increase his home run totals as time goes
by. "Right now he's more of a 10 or 15 guy," says one AL scout,
comparing him with Texas shortstop Michael Young. "But I can see him
getting up to 25 while still hitting .320."
also stand to improve his plate discipline. For such a good hitter, he draws
remarkably few walks—only nine last year, to go with 61 strikeouts. Scioscia
claims not to be bothered by that, citing Kendrick's ability to get into
hitting counts. (Last season he hit .418 when ahead in the count yet still hit
.268 when behind.) Another weak spot is breaking balls. One AL scout says his
team's righthanders felt they could get Kendrick out with a slider last season,
and Kendrick agrees. "I'd be too aggressive and chase those pitches last
year," he says. "Just from then to now, I've made a huge jump in seeing
the breaking ball and knowing when it's a mistake pitch."
He's also visibly
proud of the improvements he has made in the field, having gone from abysmal to
competent. At one point he tells a reporter, "Maybe in a couple of years
you'll be writing about my defense."
While this is a
nice sentiment, it's unlikely, no matter how proficient he may become. After
all, no one ever wrote about Reggie Miller's ability to box out. Kendrick is a
pure hitter, always has been, a kid who idolizes Aaron because of his
"great bat path," who still relishes hitting off a tee so he can
practice backspinning the ball, and who talks about hitting the way some men
talk about wine. "I've never seen him uncomfortable with a bat in his
hands," says his sister Michelle. "It always just seemed like that was
where he was supposed to be."
Best in Show
HUSTON STREET over
Jonathan Papelbon? Only in SI's fantasy world, perhaps. For Baseball
Prospectus's top players at each AL position, plus an explanation for each
choice, go to SI.com/fantasy.